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Alexis de Tocqueville concluded in the 1830s: “The situation of the Americans is entirely exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be put in the same situation.”

Disadvantaged students make up the fastest growing segment of American children today — and a robust workforce and a skilled economy will depend on their academic success. California is doing things differently — a bold experiment to bring America’s largest public school system back from the brink. Is it working?

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January 24, 2017
By Doug Gavel

President Donald Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education has accelerated the discussion around the issue of charter schools, for which DeVos has long advocated in her native Michigan.  Charter schools are publicly funded, quasi-independently-operated community-based schools intended to serve as incubators for novel teaching and learning models, but their effectiveness within the public education system has been an issue of longstanding debate. 

When Donald Trump selected an advocate for school choice, Betsy DeVos, to be secretary of education, he was acknowledging what many parents have noticed for some time: District-run public schools aren’t educating students well.

With Donald Trump set to enter the Oval Office, Vice President-elect Michael Pence seems likely to shape the federal role in education for the next four years. As a former governor who made school reform a top priority, Pence will interpret the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a barrier to federal oversight of state and local decisions. Testing will continue but how to respond to test results will be left to the states. The lowest-performing schools will be identified but the federal government will be reluctant to instruct states as to the steps that need to be taken to improve them.

The NAACP, at its national convention in Cincinnati, voted this July to support "a moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools." In Massachusetts, a local NAACP leader is campaigning against the charter-expansion referendum bill on the state ballot in November. Comparing charters to segregated schools, he shouted: "As Brown vs. the Board of Education taught us, a dual school system is inherently unequal."

Throughout this campaign season, Democrats have feigned confusion about why disaffected Republicans have not embraced Hillary Clinton, given Donald Trump’s character defects. But the K-12 education plank in the Democratic Party platform does a lot to explain the hesitance. The party’s promises seem designed to satisfy teachers unions rather than to appeal to ordinary Democrats, much less opposition moderates.

As the United States entered the 21st century it was trying to come to grips with a serious education crisis. The country lagged behind its international peers, and its half-century effort to erode racial disparities in student achievement had made little headway. Many people expected action from the federal government.

A study by Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson on the long-term impact of school vouchers on college enrollment and graduation won the 2016 Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) Prize awarded for Best Academic Paper on School Choice and Reform.